Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

We are surrounded by news 24 hours a day and it is impossible to pay attention to all of it. Most of us skim through the highlights and are informed of what goes on in the world, but seldom do we pay enough attention to each story to discover what happens to it in the media. I have, for the last three months, paid very much attention to the KONY2012 issue and how it has been presented in the media. Not only did I follow the issue but I reflected upon concepts related to the media; like manipulation, the public sphere and semiotics. This post is about what I discovered in relation to that.

The media is important to us, it is our public sphere, and it is where we share, receive and discuss information about the world and what concerns us. Unfortunately the media fails in many ways as a public sphere as information gets distorted in a swirl of bias, lies, facts and opinions. There are so many news broadcasters in the world today and they all filter the news to suit a specific audience. By tailoring the news according to their local audiences’ interests, many different views of one case are told to different people.

In the KONY2012 debate this was very clear. The western audiences have a certain interest in economy and power and so the western media reported on money, facts and the intentions of The Invisible Children. On the other hand, media broadcasters with a different target market, like Al Jazeera who wants to be “a voice of the voiceless”, talked about the Ugandan people, justice, empathy and real experiences. It took over a week before these important views were presented to us. My blogpost “Filtered News” goes more in depth on this.

Of course, social media is now also a big part of our public sphere, and here we have an opportunity for a more democratic sphere, but we also face the problem of a greater digital divide.

In addition to this, manipulation is a keyword within mainstream media. The Invisible Children, either if you think it was exploitive or genius, knew who they were targeting and that is why their video was so successful. Given that they planned to release the video online they knew their biggest audience would be teenagers, and this is why they made a video and not a streamed lecture. Other noticeable tactics were the simplifying of a complex issue, starring of young people and children as key-figures. Playing on emotions and empathy was a clear strategy of The Invisible Children.

While I am on the topic of manipulation I want to bring up George Gerbner and his cultivation theory. He argued that the media, in the long-term, lead people to believe the social reality portrayed by the media, also called “the mean world syndrome”. When Jason Russell had his public breakdown, mainstream media decorated their headlines with words like “public masturbation”, “running naked in streets” and “car wrecking” leading everyone to adopt this point of view, hashtages like #BONY2012 was all over Twitter short after. It goes to show how much influence the media can have on us.

Probably the most interesting part of the KONY issue for me was the relevance it had to semiotics. This is a complex concept, but basically it is about the reading of images and how we interpret them differently due to ideologies and experiences of the world. In KONY2012 there was an American organization which told the story of a long and complex issue in Africa to the whole world by the use of videos, pictures and text. Depending on where in the world we are from, we carry different histories and different experiences and therefore we view the world in different ways, our understanding of one story will be very diverse from others. While I saw The Invisible Children as a caring and thoughtful group who wanted to help, the Ugandan people reacted with disgust and felt the Americans were victimizing their race.

When we are dealing with global issues we should take notice of where other people come from and their history to gain a better understanding of their opinions. I think we often take for granted that everyone else should “see what we see”, we very often miss to see the reasons for other peoples actions because of this attitude.

Also other topics like moral panic and causes and effects are helpful when analysing new headlines. Our public sphere has become a complex space of ideas and information, and we must become active listeners to get the information right. News-reading changes with these concepts in mind, and can help us think before we act.

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It is funny with the public sphere. It is supposed to be a “space” or “place” where everyone are free to say their opinions and express themselves, somewhere where we all can debate on issues that are of concern to us and make the rest of the world conscious of our concerns. That is the ideal public sphere.

Where is this place? Is there really one such place where everyone is heard? Obviously there is no physical place in the world called the public sphere but our intentional sphere is in the media. Mainstream media are supposed to act as a news channel that listens to the public and share our views with the rest of the world. Is it really the case though? Do the media pick up on everyone’s concerns? Is everyone really being heard? I find that mainstream media fails as a public sphere. Rather than bringing other people’s messages across borders the mainstream media is promoting tailored and nicely packaged world views to us. Instead of informing us, they are teaching us, turning our public sphere into a monologue rather than a dialog.

When The Invisible Children released the KONY2012 video a lot of questions were raised in the world. There were different reactions to the video, its message, its content and the whole world wanted to discuss their concerns. The western media served us a mixed tape of news playing specialists opinions about money, facts and intentions. It took a whole week before they picked up on Al Jazeera’s view about the Ugandan people, empathy and real experiences. So the mainstream media is not doing a good job serving the public sphere, it basically fails to pick up concerns outside the western world.

Luckily, thanks to the internet and social media, we now have an opportunity to shape a new public sphere. By using Twitter, Facebook, blogging and vlogging members of the public sphere can take the responsibility in their own hands and share their concerns with the rest of the world instantly. There are no filters, no gatekeepers, only the voices of the public sphere. I find this sphere much more enlightening and informative. I believe that with social media our voices are stronger and more clear to the rest of the world. There is still a problem in this public sphere though; Digital divides. The picture below is meant to demonstrate the interest in the Kony-issue by region and date, but can it also be a demonstration of the digital divide in the world?

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Not all citizens in the public sphere have digital access, some people lack digital skills and others lack money to access the digital world. We must struggle to find a way to solve this digital divide. I think having a citizenship in the world of social media gives us a strong voice and helps us having a true public sphere.

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“The Arab Revolution / الثورة العربية” is a group established on the website Flickr and is one amongst many different groups. The Arab Spring started in 2010-2011 and became a revolutionary time of protests and demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and more. Although the Arab Spring in itself is an interesting issue, something else rose under this revolution which will have my attention today; Social Media and citizen Journalism.

It is not many years ago since news was received in a “one-way-manner” from mainstream media, to us. At that time we were consumers. Passive consumers relying on the information given to us. The problem with this sort of information is that is has gatekeepers. Publishers, mainstream media and Governments censor the information they provide so that it “fit” in their way of portraying the world.

Social media and citizen journalism has been around for quite a while, but under the Arab Spring it showed the world what kind of power it has. Citizens of the Arab world took use of social media to share their meanings and stories regarding the revolution. They arranged meetings by communicating time and places via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They told their stories by blogging and gave the world an honest and brutal view over what they were up against. In response to this the Egyptian government actually shut down the internet to put a stop to it, but was met with even more resistance when Google and Twitter arranged for a service enabling Egyptians to tweet via their phones. One by one we have seen the regimes fall apart, defeated by their citizens.

What does this tell us? Information is no longer given to us, but it is a shared dialog between everyone who wants to participate. We are no longer consumers but prosumers (Mitew 2012). The Internet has given us free access to an immediate flow of information and there are no filters or gatekeepers to “frame” the stories. I am thinking that if mainstream media is on its way out and the Governments no longer can rely on controlling the media, maybe democracy finally will be 100%. It sounds good, but is it all just positive? The credibility of the stories can be doubtful and it is hard to know if the stories can be trusted or not.

I find it hard to see the best solution. I think it is a relief that we have found a way to challenge our gatekeepers, but I am not convinced we can “be our own bosses”. We need to find a way where we all can participate and have a say, a way where we (the prosumers), the industries and the Governments all have power to influence.

References:

Mitew, T 2012, User empowerment, access and participation, lecture, BCM112, Convergent Media Practices, University of Wollongong, delivered 26 March.

Is the media giving us just one page of a whole book? It looks like we receive different news-angles depending on where we are, or at least who we are. Consider how many news channels there are:

  • BBC news (UK)
  • CNN (USA)
  • Al Jazeera English (Qatar)
  • Russia Today (Russian Federation)
  • ABC World (Australia)
  • France 24 (France)

This is only to mention a few. Combined with TV, radio and other web-based broadcasters the list of channels to choose from is long. Now think about where they are located, are their audience the same wherever they are? Are their target-groups the same? No.

People from different parts of the world have different issues which concerns them. While the western world might be worried about education, third world countries are concerned about having access to clean water. This example is extreme, but it is just to demonstrate what I refer to. Media broadcasters tend to “tailor” news according to the listener. A news channel based in USA knows an Americans concerns and will present their news in a way that touches upon these emotions. Another channel from another country is doing the same thing, except there the news are presented from a different angle, touching upon the emotions from another group of people.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) is the sister-channel of Al Jazeera Arabic and their main goal is to give “a voice to the voiceless”. AJE actually portrays their own mission like this:

“Our mission is to provide independent, impartial news for an international audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives from under-reported regions. In addition, the channel aims to balance the information flow between the South and the North. The channel of reference for the Middle East and Africa, Al Jazeera has unique access to some of the world’s most troubled and controversial locations. Our determination and ability to accurately reflect the truth on the ground in regions torn by conflict and poverty has set our content apart.”

Last week when the western media reported on the KONY2012 issue it was with consideration to a western audience. By following the public on twitter, Facebook, blogs etc they could easily pick up what was of interest and therefore the angle portrayed was; The Invisible Children ask us for money, are their agenda legit? Where do our money go? Are we being presented with the whole truth? Western media promoted their audience to be sceptical because they were asked to give something from themselves.

AJE took interest in another audience, the Ugandan audience, which had a whole other concern. A charity group showed the KONY2012-video to earlier victims of Kony and they reacted with disgust. AJE’s news-angle was; The Invisible Children-campaign makes the worst nightmare of Ugandan victims famous. Why would victims of Kony wear a t-shirt with his name on it? They also launched the Uganda Speaks project which highlighted the Ugandan people’s voice.

These are examples to how media can shape the way we think about world-issues in the way they portray it.

Sometimes it seems to me that the news today are showing a greater interest in the social media itself and its powers than in the actual issue of Joseph Kony.

The first week of news regarding Joseph Kony was mainly about how many hits the KONY 2012 video had on YouTube, how many likes it had on Facebook and that it was the trending topic on Twitter. I also noticed that there were more reporting of the negative effects of the KONY 2012 video than there were of positive reports, like that teenagers is being targeted and used or that the video is only made to promote the organization “Insvisible Children“.  There were of course several news-updates about who Joseph Kony is and what he is know for, but not so much about what  is happening today in the matter and what is being done about it. To be honest I felt like I got the most relevant information about this case via bloggers, tweeters or other social media platforms. The actual news came from persons who is usually the spectators.

After the Invisible Children released the video on YouTube it went across the world in a pace  we have never seen before. According to the Sydney Morning Herald the video had 11 million views on YouTube and 1.8 million “likes” on Facebook after just one day, and after only one week it has been watched over 60 million times. These are astonishing results and may have caused several epiphanies in some important offices: Social Media IS the greatest agent of democracy!

Not only does these numbers speak about how fast a message can spread in the social media, but it tells us something about the power which lies in the hands of the spectators, and I think this creates a threat to the policymakers in the world.

Why is everyone so sceptical? Why all this criticism? Are the tables about the turn? Are the roles of power being shifted? Might we end up in some kind of digital world war? It is “us” against “them”.